When the Giants brought Nori Aoki back from a fractured fibula July 27, it was representative of their lineup – which had sustained injuries to several regulars during the first several months of the season – finally returning to full strength.
That lasted less than a week. On Aug. 3, the Giants placed second baseman Joe Panik on the disabled list because of back inflammation. Tuesday, they did the same with center fielder Angel Pagan and his nagging right knee. And now it appears Aoki, who left the Giants’ 2-0 loss to the Houston Astros after the fourth inning Wednesday afternoon, may be headed back to the DL as well.
It looked as if the Giants had dodged a bullet when Aoki – who was hit in the helmet by a pitch Sunday in Chicago – passed a battery of concussion tests Monday and was cleared to play. The Giants held Aoki out of Tuesday’s lineup as precaution, but he started in left field Wednesday and took two at-bats and made a difficult catch – backtracking to the wall – in the third inning before being replaced by Justin Maxwell in the fifth.
The Giants announced Aoki left the game after feeling lightheaded. Afterward, manager Bruce Bochy said Aoki was being treated for concussion symptoms and the Giants would know more about his status Thursday, but that there is a “good possibility” Aoki will be placed on the seven-day concussion DL.
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“He’ll get re-evaluated (Thursday) and we’ll decide what we’re going to do,” Bochy said. “He felt fine (Tuesday), he did. But he was evaluated, and we’ll know more (Thursday) is the best I can give you right now. … My guess is we’re going to have to be careful here.”
Bochy did not indicate how the Giants might fill Aoki’s roster spot if he does land on the DL but said he thinks “our (outfield) defense will be fine. … It’s the offense where we’re going to have to pick it up and get things generated, and find ways to get runs on the board.”
And that was a challenge Wednesday, as the Giants managed five hits while being shut out for the 10th time this season. The Giants pushed only one runner past second base: Gregor Blanco, who doubled leading off the fifth inning, advanced to third on an Ehire Adrianza groundout, but was stranded as starting pitcher Chris Heston struck out and Maxwell lined out to center field.
About the only thing Heston didn’t do Wednesday was support himself. The right-hander took a shutout into the seventh inning but made a mistake on an 0-1 sinker to Houston center fielder Colby Rasmus. Heston meant for the pitch to be away, but it came back to the middle of the plate and Rasmus hit it over the right-field wall. Jed Lowrie gave the Astros their second run with a two-out homer off of George Kontos in the eighth.
Heston did a beautiful job. Terrific job, gave us a chance. You like to think you’re going to find a way to get a run or two, and we couldn’t do it.
Bruce Bochy, Giants manager, on starting pitcher Chris Heston
“Heston did a beautiful job,” Bochy said. “Terrific job, gave us a chance. You like to think you’re going to find a way to get a run or two, and we couldn’t do it.”
Bochy acknowledged that “anytime you lose three regulars, it changes your lineup. You are going to miss those guys. It’s a tough group out there. We’ve dealt with a lot. There’s nothing to do except go out and keep playing, and hopefully somebody picks us up.”
Bochy cited Maxwell as a player who lifted them early in the season, when Hunter Pence was out because of a fractured arm. Right now, it looks as if Aoki’s situation could thrust Maxwell back into a bigger role, along with Juan Perez, who was recalled from Triple A to replace Pagan, as the Giants’ fourth outfielder. The team could also compensate by shifting Brandon Belt to left field more often, especially if backup catcher Andrew Susac – rehabbing from a sprained thumb – is able to return soon. That would free Buster Posey to play first base.
Or the Giants could bring in outside help, such as veteran second baseman Chase Utley, about whom they’ve reportedly had discussions with the Phillies. Utley, who has spent his entire major-league career in Philadelphia, has reportedly cleared waivers and makes his home in the Bay Area during the offseason. Utley is batting just .196 but could bring an experienced bat at a position the Giants are currently piecing together with Panik out.
“I think everybody would say they’d like another bat,” Bochy said. “It’s not that easy. Guys are going through waivers, they get claimed and blocked and all those things.
“Meanwhile, this is my 25 guys. I’ll go with them any day.”